Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Annual Conference serves as balm for weary souls


Rev. Tish Malloy preaches at the memorial service at the 2023 Annual Conference. Photos by Tabitha Beckman.

This year’s Annual Conference hit a little bit differently.

The setting was the awe-inspiring Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, with its soaring tower and plethora of symbolic artwork. The messages were of hope and healing from all speakers. The setting was just right for renewal.

While painful, the looming slate of disaffiliations was finally completed, and many United Methodists were able to release a months-long held breath in a collective sigh of relief. While churches and leaders will be missed, that apprehension is over.

The mood of attendees, clergy and laity alike, was bolstered by heartfelt messages from multiple speakers.

Tish Malloy, who offered the sermon during the Monday evening memorial service, talked about the need of Thomas, the doubter, to see proof of life. She told the story of her granddaughter, who expected to see Jesus in church, and asked if different people in the congregation were Jesus. Malloy’s daughter finally told the little girl that she can see Jesus in everyone.

“We are the body of Christ in this world,” Malloy said in her address. “How many people in our families, in our communities, in this world God loves so much, need proof of life today in order to believe in Jesus? How many people all around us…would believe if only they felt the touch of the loving, living Christ through you? We are his body, and Jesus went to Thomas, and he offered him all that he needed to believe. And church, he commissioned you and he commissioned me to do the same thing.”

At the same memorial service, Rev. Carol Cook Moore, with the help of the Stillwater First UMC choir, did a dramatic reading of John 20.

Bishop Jimmy Nunn performs the passing of the mantle ceremony with retiree Kathy Morris and ordinand Seungrok Kim.

Diana Northcutt, who preached at the retirement service, spoke of light. She spoke of the changes that have been wrought since the time when the retirees began ministry, and she reflected on how people can serve as lights for the world. One example she used was that of President Jimmy Carter, who is still active in working for nonprofits at age 98. She discussed the Lighthouse Congregations program and its calling to reach out and be a light to those who have lost their churches.

“You see willingness to be light in the darkness for those who are hurting, those who are lost, and those who really do not know what their next step is going to be,” Northcutt stated. “There’s a sense of growing excitement, of being new and exciting discipleship-making. People are beginning to discover what it means to be a light in the darkness.”

During her report on New Faith Communities, Rev. Dr. Bessie Hamilton described the work of several church planters and announced plans to implement a discernment academy for potential church planters; a new faith communities manual; and a planters’ academy.

Hamilton stated, “We are excited. This bus has not stopped. We are rolling. For every church we lost, we want to bring back some new churches. I ask that you pray with us because, the interesting thing about starting a new church, it is work. It is the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it is the best thing you will ever do. Imagine people wandering around, looking for a place to go, and you have a place for them to stop, just as they are.”

After a ruling of the Council of Bishops, the group was able to elect delegates to replace those who had been lost since the delay of the 2020 General Conference. Two clergy delegates were added – Nancy Hamilton and Mark Foster. Nine lay delegates were elected: Sharri Hiller, Chantelle Foster, Kristen Harlin, Rebekah Hasty, Corey Shirey, Monica Hiller, Larry Anderson, Amy Neathery, and Kasey Curry. Bishop Jimmy Nunn led a prayer over the entire delegation, which will head to General Conference in 2024.

Betsy Stewart-Dooley, who was commissioned at the Wednesday evening service, noted the change in atmosphere at this year’s event. “Even voting on delegations was a thing of hope and sacredness. Joy seemed to permeate everything.”

Of the support and love she experienced during her commissioning, she added, “All week it was this great body of support and love - the holy love of connectionalism.”

The lower seating area and much of the balcony at Annual Conference at Boston Avenue was filled with clergy and laity ready to worship,connect with one another, and choose General Conference delegates.

Stewart-Dooley continued, “After this week - full of spontaneous singing, joyous gathering, prayers, gracious support, and so much joy - I get it. I get what it’s supposed to be and what our connection truly means. And I am so blessed to be a part of this body of the church.”

“I think the UMC is going to be more than okay after this season. The plant will thrive so long as we remember who we are. We are not the pruning we have endured; we are the plant that grows where we are planted by God, in the soil of Christ’s grace. And we remember that we grow in love toward that holy perfection. This is where I’ll stay and grow, too.”

It’s extra sweet that Stewart-Dooley will serve Boston Avenue UMC this appointment season.

Rev. Sam Powers, district superintendent for the Crossroads district, felt a homecoming at Boston Avenue. “I grew up at Boston Avenue - it was my home church when we joined in 1976 and so it was especially meaningful for me to return for Annual Conference. My parents both sang in the choir there for about forty years and this was the first time I have been back in worship in Boston Avenue’s sanctuary since they died. The combination of our return to this church, along with a less contentious gathered body, made this an excellent reminder to me of who we are and who we can become. “

Powers continued, “Those in attendance likely might be all over the map on a wide variety of social issues, but we did agree to sing out our faith in God boldly as we called out hymns for Judy Horne to play! It gave me a renewed sense of hope that we were there for one another - even in the midst of changes going on all around us. This shared sense of identity in Christ is always palpable to me at annual conference as we remember our dead, honor our retirees and bless those who are newly picking up the mantle of clergy leadership.”

Noted Rev. Tracy Hoskins, pastor at Hobart First UMC, “This year’s Annual Conference had a very different feel than any other I have attended. I felt an energy that I have never felt before. I truly felt the Holy Spirit in that place. I know I experienced some sadness that I would not be seeing some clergy friends, but the camaraderie and the connectedness of all of us there soothed my heart. The joy that was expressed through the singing of hymns was palpable. For the first time that I can remember, everyone was singing loud and clear with smiles on their faces and wanting to sing more and more. That was a huge blessing for me because I love music and especially the familiar, loved hymns from all generations.”

Bishop Jimmy Nunn and Brandon Blacksten (right) pray over Levi Duggan during his commissioning.
Bill Junk, president of Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation, retires after 35 years of service. The Oklahoma Indian United Methodist Conference gifted him with a blanket on his retirement. Bishop Jimmy Nunn congratulates Junk.

Hoskins continued,”I think there was spiritual and emotional healing as we gathered to go through the familiar business. The business and ministry focus didn’t seem difficult or boring but needed and heartwarming. The contentiousness of the Called Special Conferences was non-existent at this Annual Conference and I was very pleased about that. It reminded me of why I’m staying UMC.

Many conversations about this year’s event highlighted the positive energy flowing throughout the campus.

Another topic of discussion was the good-natured, old-fashioned hymn sing led by Bishop Nunn and Judy Horne.

“The church will not be overcome,” said Bishop Nunn in his closing remarks, “because the church is grounded in the very nature of God.”


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